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July 15, 2016

Where are the marshlands?

I had a wonderful time connecting with sustainability advocate Susan Santos de Cardenas in her home city of Lima, Peru on a recent trip for APEC.

Susan is a Filipina and happily married to Peruvian Ambassador Julio Cardenas who has stayed in Manila, Singapore, and Japan in Asia and has also been the APEC officer-in-charge for many years for Peru. That is something Julio and I have in common. Besides sharing a love for food and Nature we can talk about APEC.

Susan and I reminisced about the movement, The Coron Initiative (TCI), which she started many years ago and is being pursued by local Pinoy sustainability advocates like Al Linsangan of Coron Galeri. ECHOstore partner Reena Francisco and I spoke at these seminars held in Coron. We also invited Urban Planner Karmi Palafox and met green advocates Eric Raymundo and PJ Aranador—all shared the dream of making Coron a green tourism destination.

Chit Juan, Where are the Marshlands, Coron, 2016July15

Susan saw how Boracay went bad because the environmental planning went out the window. There is a plan or was a plan to preserve marshlands, for example. But, if you look at the map, these marshlands are now “reclaimed” and on them sit hotels and resorts! How did that happen?

Stealing nature’s sanctuaries is a criminal act, just like drug pushing and corruption. There are nine marshlands in the environmental map but they are nowhere to be found now. We do not want this to happen to Coron. We are still crossing our fingers that the recovery of marshlands in Boracay can still happen.

Susan knows what she speaks of. She worked and still consults for Peru’s greenest and most sustainable resort, Inkaterra. She passionately relates to us how just planting indigenous trees in Peru brought back hundreds of species of orchids, and birds who again found their natural habitat. That can happen in our forests, too. I am hopeful that the new DENR secretary can reforest Palawan and other denuded areas and find the lost marshlands in Boracay!

Besides recovering marshlands, what else can we learn from Susan’s experience?

Chit Juan, Where are the Marshlands, Coron2, 2016July15

Carrying capacity
It’s not just about number of tourists. We must consider the number of people a place can hold and still be protected from damage. This is what Bhutan does. It has a limit to the number of visitors it can accept so that the natural habitat will not be destroyed or even diminished. But then tourists spend more per person, which still makes Tourism a dollar-earner.

It’s quality tourist arrivals, not quantity. However, I just heard on the news that our new Tourism secretary mentioned a Ten Million target. Could we spread them over other islands perhaps?

Greening our hotels
How many hotels have greening programs as part of their strategic plan?  Is it a real green initiative or just a CSR or green washing for PR purposes?

Making Caticlan a gateway town
There is a proposal  to move residents to Caticlan town and reserve the island Boracay itself for tourists. Will this ever be considered by its citizens so it can be a sustainable resort town? Will the new DOT secretary review this proposal?

The author with Susan Santos de Cardenas

The author with Susan Santos de Cardenas

Sustainability schools
We need schools like the Carnegie-Mellon school in Peru where Susan teaches Hotel Sustainabilty practices. Mina Gabor has started this institute in Clark which we hope can be sustained so our tourism industry can be kept active for many years and become a real economic growth area while preserving our environment.

I was kidding Susan that she must come back to Manila and teach us what she has learned in Inkaterra…again. Maybe with two women now at the helm of the agencies responsible for greening and tourism, we may see some light and improvement in implementing our laws.

“Our environmental laws are good,” Susan says. “But implementation is poor,” she continues.

Well, guess what Susan? We now have a new leadership who pledged that he can crack the whip and with our friend Sonny Dizon as Tourism adviser, we may see results.

Tourism and Environment are two agencies where we hope to see the green light—the light to make our country green, that is. And with this, I hope my friend Susan will finally come home and help find the marshlands in Boracay.

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